30 January, 2024

This past year has not been uneventful, I guess.
It began with me still traumatized from my near-drowning experience on Boxing Day 2022 up at Wonga Park. The Yarra River was high after recent floods, but this did not quench my enthusiasm and sense of adventure as I set out for a few hours of fun kayaking with my partner, Stephen. All went well at first – with us zooming down a rapid, which I had never done before – my first experience in white water! It was quite exhilarating and took me back to the movie, ‘Deliverance’. However, going back UP rapids, I sadly discovered, is not the same as going down them. Ignoring Stephen’s suggestion that we pull into the bank before the rapids and just walk up to get our lunch from the car, I insisted that we push on up to where we had originally launched our boat. Alas, my paddle was out of sync with Stephen’s at this stage, and we were suddenly pulled swiftly to the left and forced under a large fallen branch which capsized our kayak. Stephen was fine, popping up one side, but I was trapped underneath for what seemed forever in my skirt attached to the boat. I remember thinking: “This is what drowning is.” As beautiful as they say, for all I could see were lovely light blues and oranges, etc. Realizing that I would very soon run out of air, I gave up trying to push up towards Stephen’s side of the boat and twisted instead around to the left. This must have somehow released the skirt as I was suddenly somersaulting and hurtling up the other side of the boat. Gasping and spluttering, I saw and heard Stephen shouting at me: “This is a lesson!” and ordering me to swim over to the bank where our car was. I refused, somewhat hysterically, and insisted that he just get me to the nearest bank where the fallen tree was, which he reluctantly did. Sadly, this cost him valuable time, as, by the time he went back to retrieve the kayak, it had been pushed deeper into the churning waters. However, from Heaven, there fell two passing kayakers – one in a tiny red kayak, one in a tiny blue kayak and both wearing helmets. Seeing our dilemma, one offered to go get a saw from his car, returning with a saw so miniscule that Stephen’s heart sank. Both red & blue kayakers proceeded to saw away but couldn’t get far from their boats, so Stephen then hoisted himself up onto the massive tree branch overhanging our poor kayak (here’s where his 40 push-ups each morning show, I thought). He sawed frantically with his right hand, then his left hand – until eventually, the branch fell, and our beautiful, sunken, yellow kayak rose slowly to the surface to cheers from a gathering crowd on the far bank. With only one paddle, we then limped over to the right side of the river and learned that a Canadian onlooker had retrieved most of our floating items, was about to rescue me when I surfaced, and had taken a couple of photos of our crisis. My phone was totally waterlogged, and a few items were lost, but hey, we both survived. Needless to say, I am now the World’s Most Cowardly Kayaker!
A few months later, I almost outdid myself. My iron levels were quite low, and I was persuaded to have a colonoscopy and gastroscopy in order to rule out internal bleeding. On coming out of the anaesthetic, I was delighted to be told that I didn’t have bowel cancer, polyps or gastric ulcers. So delighted, in fact, that when the nurse turned away briefly to get me a glass of water, I leapt out of bed – and found myself flat on my face on the concrete floor. I then spent about 12 hours in Emergency at Footscray Hospital before being told that I had broken my nose in two places! No more jumping for joy for me.
Again, trying to outdo myself, I suddenly fell mysteriously ill in September and ended up spending nine days in hospital with pneumonia. However, it wasn’t all bad for as I recovered and awaited the final chest x-ray before discharge, I was hanging out for each evening meal: the best-grilled barramundi in the world and the most divine lemon sorbet for dessert (Epworth Private Hospital). I also read five novels while there and watched every AFL footy match on TV. However, foolishly (in hindsight), I returned immediately to work for the last four days of THE term – heavily masked by a new outbreak of COVID in my school. The result, of course, was that I had COVID for the first week of the term holidays after dodging it for the last three years! Funnily though, both my partner Stephen (with whom I kindly shared the virus) – and I interpreted my symptoms as recovery from pneumonia symptoms, so I feel that I sort of missed COVID while having it, with only the late RAT test proving I had it. I also kindly shared COVID with two fellow musicians, who just as kindly forgave me.
Which brings me to my musical projects now. I finally launched my John Shaw Neilson album, ‘The Walking of the Moon-Woman’ (held up by Covid), at the Port Fairy Folk Festival in March. It comprises various poems by Neilson that I have set to music – some serious, some light-hearted, some famous (e.g. The Orange Tree) and some lesser-known (e.g. My Cow in Switzerland). There are Lots of different instruments and lots of great musicians – including Sam Lemann on guitar & mandolin, Dave Billings on bass & keyboard, Catherine Leslie on superb violin & viola, and Jenny Rowlands on glorious cello. Unfortunately, the launch at Port Fairy was poorly attended as its original time slot of 5 pm was inexplicably moved to 2 pm, following a long morning of spoken word sessions on a glorious sunny day when, after sitting for hours, most people wanted to enjoy the sun and have lunch. But at least the smaller audience was generally enthusiastic and supportive of my karaoke-style efforts.
Later in the year, I also launched my new album, ‘Cinderella’ (again held up by Covid), at a house concert in Northcote. Similar to my Neilson album, it also comprises mostly lesser-known poems by Henry Lawson that I have set to music (e.g. ‘The Lily and the Bee’ and ‘The Route March’). The launch was extremely well attended, and as I rounded up lots of fine musicians, it was a great success with much audience participation as well as positive feedback. I also sold a fair number of CDs too, which was gratifying!
I will be having a further double launch of both the above albums on Tuesday, May 14th this year. This will be the Main Act at the Victorian Folk Music Club monthly concert night – at Ringwood Uniting Church Hall in Ringwood at 7.45 pm. As the performance will only go for an hour, it will not be possible to sing every song from both albums, so it will just be a careful selection from both my Neilson and Lawson albums performed that evening. Again, I will be accompanied by various musicians on violin, piano, harp, mandolin, cello, guitar, bass, percussion and more.

Share this


About Maggie Somerville

Maggie Somerville is a Melbourne-based singer/songwriter, who has been writing and performing in bands, duos and as a solo performer, for over thirty years.
Read more.